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Christ on Every Page

June 29, 2017

Last year, while preparing to teach through the book of Nahum, I was talking with some pastors about the challenges of preaching the minor prophets. One of them said in all seriousness, but as a bit of a jest because he already knew my views on the matter, “Just find Jesus in Nahum.”

His answer was a good summary of the historical-redemptive hermeneutic. Hermeneutic is the technical term for any method used to interpret the Bible. Also called the Christological hermenuetic and Christ-centered preaching, the historical redemptive hermeneutic has been growing in popularity. The general popularity of pastors who hold to this method accompanied by recent books espousing this method for teaching and children’s ministry have brought the theory to the attention of many Christians.

The historical-redemptive method of interpretation is a means of studying and proclaiming the Old Testament that looks to find Jesus reflected in each passage. This interpretive method approaches the text with the presupposition that the ultimate significance of any passage is found in Christ. Jesus, as revealed in the New Testament, is the key to discovering the full meaning of the Old Testament. Any interpretation that does not end in Christ is an incomplete hermeneutic. One blogger said it like this, “The conscious intent of the human author is not sufficient for understanding the true intent of the text. This side of the cross, we have an insight that the Bible’s human authors lacked. If Jesus doesn’t show up in the sermon then it isn’t preaching.” (John Koessler)

The primary text used to support this interpretive method is Luke 24:27, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” When Jesus taught the two confused disciples on the road to Emmaus He showed them how all the Old Testament spoke of Him. Thus, if Jesus read the Old Testament as all about Him, so should we.

Despite the appeal of preaching Jesus in every sermon and teaching Jesus in every Sunday School class the historical-redemptive method is problematic. The assertion that all the Old Testament teaches about Jesus is not a conclusion but a presupposition. Luke 24 can not be used as support for this presupposition. Luke does not present Jesus as teaching through the entire Old Testament. A two or three hour journey is not enough time to read the whole Old Testament much less expound every passage of the Old Testament. Luke 24 does not mention which Old Testament passages Jesus selected. What it does indicate is that Jesus taught from each of the major portions of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets and Psalms) things prophesied of Him. (Luke 24:44) Luke 24 does not say Jesus taught that every passage in the Old Testament is about Him. Luke 24 provides no insight into the interpretive method used by Christ. Luke 24 says Jesus taught the Old Testament prophecies about Him. Ultimately, the New Testament does not treat the Old Testament as if it is all about Jesus.

The historical-redemptive method sounds very appealing. Anyone who loves God wants to talk about Jesus. A preacher who loves God and others will love to preach the gospel. With a little thought and imagination a bridge can be built from any passage to Jesus. This does not mean every passage is about Jesus or that every sermon has to point to Jesus. The historical-redemptive interpretation also offers a corrective to the tendency to make every Old Testament passage about Christian behavior. Sadly, the historical-redemptive method fails in the same way moralistic preaching fails. Ending every sermon with Jesus is better than ending every sermon with an exhortation to be a good person, but it makes the same mistake of imagining that the Bible has a single theme that is the point of every single passage.

The proponents of the historical-redemptive method are not heretics, but they practice a method of Bible study that suffers from significant flaws. The assumption that the Old Testament could not be fully understood until after the coming of Jesus overlooks crucial truths of the Old Testament. In the effort to exalt Jesus they unintentionally diminish other significant doctrines of the Bible. More on that in future posts.


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